Greening Government Buildings

The Australian Federal Election is on all our minds and governments always want to make cuts to save money, so how can governments save money from their own buildings?

The Green Building Council of Australia has called on political parties to introduce greener initiatives to government buildings to save taxpayers millions of dollars each year.

GBCA chief operating officer Robin Mellon said governments could reduce overheads and cut carbon emissions by improving the efficiency of existing buildings.

He said retrofitting was the most sustainable way to save money and green up the government’s buildings.

“A modest 10 per cent improvement in energy efficiency would save more than $35 million per year in electricity costs and be equivalent to the electricity required to power 23,000 homes,” he said.

“A 10 per cent improvement would also reduce carbon emissions by 167,000 tonnes – the same as taking 46,000 cars off the road.”

Mr Mellon said the recent Climate Institute’s ‘Boosting Australia’s Energy Productivity’ research highlighted that Australia’s poor investment in energy efficiency cost the country tens of billions of dollars in economic growth.

He said a symbolic gesture would be to gain a Green Star performance rating for Parliament House, being the most significant federally-owned building in Australia.

Expanding Cities Turn Up The Heat

Greening cities is not only good for emotional and mental health of humans and for animal habitats, it can also bring the temperature down and bring real estate prices up.

A University of NSW study has found an expansion of concrete and asphalt on the fringes of cities could increase urban temperatures by as much as 3.7 degrees by the year 2050.

The study’s lead author Dr Daniel Argueso said this could cause heat stress and higher energy consumption meaning higher power bills and more stress on the environment and fossil fuel usage.

UNSW’s Faculty of Built Environment’s Dr Paul Osmond is pushing for changes to urban planning.

“Current research shows that, along with other strategies, green spaces, street trees and bodies of water can have a marked effect on reducing urban heat island effect,” he said.

“Quite often, leafy suburbs that contain a number of parks and bodies of water also tend to see increased real estate values.”

The urban heat island effect is caused by urban buildings storing more heat than open ground and releasing this heat at night and urban surfaces hinder evaporation and its cooling effect.

The City of Sydney is working with UNSW to collect information to see how shade trees and pavement colour affect urban temperatures with monitoring systems installed in Chippendale and Redfern.

Adelaide has studied the urban heat island effect in the past, led by Dr Huade Guan from Flinders University.

The overall message is that more urban greening brings the temperature down and real estate prices up- a win-win situation.

Farming Carbon helps indigenous communities and the environment

Indigenous Australians are encouraged to start carbon farming projects, with funding available.

Under the Australian Government’s Indigenous Carbon Farming Fund Capacity Building and Business Support stream the government will assist indigenous Australians to access carbon farming specialists, business development expertise and legal advice for their carbon farming projects.

These projects are a win-win, providing further employment opportunities in indigenous communities and helping the environment.

The fund will provide $22.3m over five years to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to participate in the Carbon Farming Initiative.

The Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) allows farmers, indigenous landholders and land managers to earn carbon credits by storing carbon or reducing greenhouse gas emissions on the land. These credits can then be sold to people and businesses wishing to offset their emissions.

It is a carbon offsets scheme that is part of Australia’s carbon market and helps the environment by encouraging sustainable farming and providing a source of funding for landscape restoration projects.

Farmers, indigenous landholders and land managers can choose whether they wish  to participate in the CFI and types of indigenous carbon farming projects include early season savannah burning and environmental plantings.



Green Farming

There are fewer jobs that rely more on the environment than farming, and many are embracing environmentally friendly methods to grow food for the world.

Subsistence farmers experience higher yields by embracing alternatives to conventional farming methods because, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute, the world needs to produce more food with fewer resources.

One alternative method is Agroecology, which mimics natural ecosystems, and improves soil fertility, adapts to climate change and reduces farming costs. According the UN, it also more than doubled crop yields within 3 to 10 years.

Developed in Australia, permaculture is organic and low-input using intercropping, water harvesting and recycling resources. Globally, some permaculture programs are run as part of other projects focused on health and environmentally sustainability, which gives communities many more benefits than simply greater food yields.

Sustainability is not an issue just for designers, architects or those involved in technology development, it’s something to be embraced by people in every aspect of their lives to make improvements to the global population.

These principles are not limited to farming projects, even home garenders can embrace the principles of permaculture in their backyard to enhance their produce and lessen their detrimental effects on the natural environment.

Bringing Green Inside for Health, Wealth and Happiness

Achieving sustainability is usually focused on the exterior of a structure, but new awards and a new rating system will recognise excellence in green interior design.

Jane Parkins reports, on Interior Design Source, that Australian interior design is beginning to embrace green building principles, with the US and UK markets already reaping the benefits in increased productivity and long-term economic savings.

The Your Future Home – Green Interior Awards are now offering designers incentives to consider the environmental benefits of their interior.

The awards aim to highlight designers who complete projects with a green theme and to educate designers in new ways to look at interiors.

Australian Living sustainable interior design consultant Daphna Tal will judge the awards along with panel members Sydney magazine editor and interiors blogger Jen Bishop and sustainability driven interior designer, speaker and writer Emine Mehmet.

Entries for the award program close in November.

As a further incentive, the Green Building Council of Australia has launched a Green Star rating tool for interiors this month, also.

Green Building Council of Australia chief executive Romilly Madew said this new rating tool would help more people to enjoy comfortable, healthy and productive indoor environments.

She said companies working in green interiors understood these workplaces could boost productivity and “act as a powerful recruitment and retention tool”.

“Green is now the norm – where it used to be a bonus in a building, it is now expected,” says Simon Hunt, Colliers International Managing Director of Office Leasing.

The challenge is now on to find the best green interiors and encourage more designers and tenants to reap the associated benefits.

Making the Green Grade

The Green Building Council of Australia has reported the nation now has 500 green star rated projects, but could we do better?

Construction Source’s Andrew Heaton ( has questioned whether the country’s middle of the road ranking for energy efficiency (coming sixth out of 12) in the world’s largest economies is good enough with commentators saying we could improve.

The Green Star rating system for buildings was launched in 2003 to help the property and construction industry to reduce the environmental impact of buildings and improve, drive innovation in sustainable building practices, improve occupant health and productivity and save costs.

However, commentators such as WSP Built Ecology’s David Jarratt and iRubber ESD partner Ann Gardner said there were plenty of areas in which Australia could be doing more, particularly with building design and choice of materials due to costs and builders using products they’ve always used.

The issue could also be in educating young builders about environmentally-sustainable products. The Green Building Council of Australia, though, maintains that, with governments mandating green star rated buildings around the country, our numbers of sustainable buildings will only increase.

Along with this, the GBCA has stated that developers are raising the bar higher with each green project and owners and tenants want their buildings to be green and their lives enriched accordingly, meaning more energy savings for Australia and more Green Star projects embraced each year.

Future cities grow up and power themselves

Cities of the future, if the predictions of architects and urban planners prove correct, will grow upward, not outward.

Future urban planning and design may see an increasing trend toward multi-purpose environments. Indeed these may be the key to evolving cities of the future, with everyday living going from the individual to the communal. Social aspects, which have diminished due to urban density and design, may return to communities as this change integrates into the greater built environment.

An evolving urban landscape will see the humble house replaced with minimalist dwelling as our cities grow upward, not out and urban sprawl will become increasingly rare.

With skyrocketing costs in both infrastructure and utilities, many expect a diversity in living styles to catalyse over the next decade.

According to Giles Tribe Architects and Urban Planners principal Mark Broadley, City of Sydney director of planning, development and transport Graham Jahn and Victoria’s associate government architect Jill Garner future accommodation will be aimed at reducing the human eco-footprint and the level of impact that individuals have indirectly on the environment, whilst providing opportunities for sustainable design.

Eco-friendly will be another key to future existence, with power generation products tipped to become a staple of future building. Whether wind turbines or solar panels, both residential and commercial dwellings will be energy and waste-efficient.

Buildings inevitably, are expected to increasingly integrate with the natural environment, rather than taking from it, whilst energy consumption and waste production will become increasingly important aspects for reduction.

Whilst seemingly a little too utopian, one thing is for certain; the future holds the answers.

Search for alternatives heats up

As the seasons change, so do our heating and cooling needs and the ways we do this in our homes could change dramatically in coming years.

Not only is geothermal energy a great investment in the environment- it is emission-free, but it could reduce the costs associated with heating and cooling by 75 per cent because it takes its energy from the earth’s naturally-stored heat.

It works by circulating fluid, water or refrigerant through pipes installed in building foundations or boreholes then back to the surface.

Therefore, it’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

To warm buildings, heat in the fluid is extracted through a heat pump and in summer this is revered with heat removed from the building by the pump and deposited underground.

The Victorian Government has already invested $1.6 million for The University of Melbourne and its industrial partners, Geotechnical Engineering and Direct Energy to further investigate this form of heating and cooling.

As great as this system is, geothermal energy doesn’t generate or replace our need for electricity, but it does save energy and reduce our effects on the environment.

Building on this, Geoscience Australia estimated that by using only one per cent of the geothermal heat resource within the top five kilometres of the earth’s crust, we could provide 26,000 times our annual energy consumption.

Australia will continue to explore this alternative energy source and, with further development, the price of introducing it to our homes will come down.